Steroid Dangers: The Psychological Side

Following is an article written by Dr. Ken E. Leistner which appeared in Issue #46 of Hardgainer published by Stuart McRobert.

The media has made anabolic steroid dangers a hot topic. There are, in fact, a few individuals who are making a living by either writing or lecturing on the negative aspects of these substances. Unfortunately, there has been so much hype and exaggeration that many athletes and coaches have all but given up the expectation of ever getting an objective body of information. Letís face facts and first admit that itís extremely difficult to be objective. If one uses, one wants to rationalize what is still an unpopular position in many circles. If one is strongly against their use, it has been all too easy to grasp the most sensational aspects of enhancement drug hyperbole and ride that into the sunset, atop the horse of fair play and ethics.

The physical dangers certainly exist, and pose potentially serious effects for the athletes who use anabolic drugs. However, many users do not suffer any side effects, at least not within the first years of use, so it is difficult to get many of them to understand the seriousness of a drug taking stance. The commonly encountered psychological problems are much more widespread, and readily recognized by those who have used growth drugs on a more or less regular basis.

Psychological addiction is a very real danger that has been addressed by most of the books written about steroid use, but in a very superficial manner. I cannot begin to tell you how easy it is to fall into a pattern of compulsive use and abuse.

Everyone who lifts weights in order to improve athletic ability for another sport, or to add pounds to their powerlifting total is highly motivated to foster that expected improvement. The gym axiom that ďstrength is a greedy mistressĒ is ever so true. It is easy to get sucked into chronic use in an attempt to make further strength and size gains, maintain previous improvements, or satisfy the ego demands that bring one to the gym in the first place. If youíve spent months or years slaving under heavy squats and bench presses to make a certain amount of improvement, the drugs can be a compelling siren song if theyíve allowed you to make those same gains in six to ten weeks--damn compelling if you take the time to talk to non-competitive bodybuilders or powerlifters who just want to be "a little bit bigger" or "keep my bench press at 325." I labor under the belief that the primary advantage in anabolic steroids lies in the psychological boost they provide, and when the lifterís ego is satisfied by relatively rapid gains, it makes it quite simple to continue to take the "easier path" to strength and glory.

There is one former powerlifter in the midwest who is well educated, is employed in a profession that gives him financial security and community respect, has what appears to be a serene family life, and who has won major powerlifting titles over a long and illustrious career. His physique is far beyond the imagination of the average man and he has maintained the ability to bench press almost as much as he did at the peak of his competitive career. In short, this is a man who has succeeded at the things he has attempted and who has attained the strength and physique he wanted when he first picked up a barbell. He has been taking anabolic steroids for over fifteen years, and his wife has never known this. He continues to take anabolic steroids, even though he hasnít competed in a number of years. He justifies this position by explaining that "The dosage is very small. If this stuff was going to hurt me, it would have long ago when I took relatively heavy dosages." He feels that his life would change irreparably if his bench press fell below a certain point, or if his massive chest and arms lost any of their size. He feels that the tradeoff between living his life "smaller, weaker, and wimpier" is worth any possible threat to future health.

The sad thing is that he is not alone. Many lifters continue to take steroids long after their careers have ended because they are afraid of giving up some of their physical stature. Many football players have always enjoyed the feeling of being big, strong and somewhat feared, and they too continue to feed on these drugs after leaving the gridiron. If I had a dollar for every lifter who first started using anabolic drugs with the statement "Iím only going to use them twice a year for big meets" and wound up using them eight or ten months during the year, every year for two to five years, Iíd be very wealthy. Once you believe that instant strength, size, and physical security lie in a bottle of pills or a vial of medication, thereís almost no going back. Very few top level lifters stay on the drugs for one or two short yearly cycles. Itís too easy to get caught in a web that strongly reinforces constant use because that reinforcement in terms of strength and peer response is so positive.

The group most prone to serious physical side effects from steroid use is the adolescent athlete. They are at highest risk for the many physiological mishaps that can occur as a by-product of growth drug intake. Unfortunately, they are also the group which is most likely to fall prey to the psychological trap of these substances. Teenagers are insecure almost by definition. It is the time of life to pit emerging skills, abilities and attitude against a world which has yet to reveal a place for them. The popular muscle building magazines suck off of this insecurity, holding out the dream of strength and masculinity, and anabolic drug use can seem like a very logical step for the youngster whose security would be enhanced by being bigger, stronger or a better athlete.

A sad but revealing statement was made at the 1984 National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association Convention by a well known strength athlete who said that those who took anabolic steroids were ďtired of being wimps,Ē that the drugs, in essence, allowed them to be as big, strong and secure as their dreams and inadequacies dictated.

There are an awful lot of insecure men walking the streets and inhabiting the local gyms and health clubs. Many of them are young, not yet in step with much of the community, and searching for something that will fill a lot of their empty spaces. Anabolic steroids and the promise of greater physical prowess comes very close to satisfying the gnawing doubts that many of these individuals have. Why else lift heavy weights or become a bodybuilder?

Yes, health, fitness, the feeling of satisfaction that comes after a hard workout, and the rest of the rhetoric which spills forth as reasons for killing oneself in the gym come quickly to mind, but I imagine that most serious body types are still out searching for another prop with which to deal with the world around them. This isnít necessarily negative, but anabolic drug use is a natural for many individuals fitting the generalization. As one strength training expert told me recently, "Anyone who begins a bodybuilding career after age twenty three, or after achieving financial, family or career security is out of step in some way. He or she just isnít making it on some personal psychological level." As I said, this isnít necessarily negative, but it does open a potentially large segment of the athletic population to steroid abuse.

Source: Hardgainer by Stuart McRobert

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